Two wordy plays are currently showing in Wellington. Both are very good.

The Angry Brigade by James Graham, directed by Samuel Phillips

Four police officers are in a basement office in London trying to track down some terrorists. Threats have been made. Bombs have gone off. It’s not the IRA. In fact, they’re not like anything the team has seen before. In order to catch the criminals, they’ll have to investigate and experience the things the criminals like – the things that society disapproves of…

Based on a real life situation and named after the anarchist group who carried out the bombings this is a play full of words. All the cast deliver them quickly as sentences tumble over each other. Patrick Carroll is key in the first half of the play. He’s great as the buttoned up team leader who has to lead his team in getting into the mindset of the bombers. Comfrey Sanders shines in the second half showing the emotional journey her character takes. Andrew Patterson is also best in the second half with a well rounded characterisation. Karin McCracken is equally good in both halves.

The company have found a terrific  space in Tory street. Brown paper on the windows hides the car parking building on the opposite side of the street while street noises filter through. The script is dense with words and two halves that are structurally complementary. Director Samuel Phillips keeps the pace up which I think is really important. However this means some of the emotional changes in the first half come as a surprise as there doesn’t seem to be anything to support them. Excellent costumes by Harriet Denby echo the structure of the script.

A play about past events on the other side of the world which resonates today.


Gifted by Patrick Evans, directed by Conrad Newport

The play has a tagline “When Janet Frame met Frank Sargeson a story” but it’s really ‘What Frank Sargeson makes of Janet Frame.’ Or maybe even ‘What character-Frank-Sargeson makes of character-Janet-Frame.’ Frame is presented as sort of a manic pixie dream girl who becomes simultaneously more real and more oracle-like the more Sargeson gets to know her. Her love of words clashes with his love of realism as the self-described ‘father of the nation’s fiction’ struggles to get to know her.

Strong direction by Conrad Newport makes it clear that this is not a play based in a natural timeframe. People appear and disappear through the marvellous set design from Daniel Williams (which incorporates a working kitchen, a fake garden, and a nifty little wooden hut.) Andrew Laing as Sargeson has the bulk of the lines and emotional weight of the play. His physicality is very watchable, and he manages to create a connection with the audience that carries us through the two hour show. Harriet Prebble as Frame has the difficult job of having to be slightly aloof and unreal, yet still relatable, which she manages with good skill. Simon O’Connor plays Harry Doyle, Sargeson’s on again, off again lover. He is suitably annoying and crass. The passing of time is shown by clever transitions and supported by good lighting design (Jennifer Lal) and costume changes (designed by Maryanne Wright-Smith, Daniel Williams). I like the colour scheme in the costumes too – pale summery colours for Sargeson, prints for Frame, and classic dark suiting for Doyle.

All in all I really enjoyed this production.

  • Gifted on at Circa Theatre to 31 October 2015